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[Whitepaper] How to write a PR Brief?

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This whitepaper will guide you through the whats, hows and whys of preparing a brief, including:
- What's the best way to brief an agency
- How many agencies to brief
- What could go in a brief
- How you will benefit

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[Whitepaper] How to write a PR Brief?

  1. 1. How to write a PR Brief, P 1 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 How to write a PR Brief By Scott McLean
  2. 2. How to write a PR Brief, P 2 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 How to write a PR Brief By Scott McLean, independent public relations consultant and co-founder of The Intelligent Marketing Institute October 2013 When considering the appointment of a PR agency at some point the issue of preparing a brief will raise its head. And to get straight to the most obvious point, there is no single right way to brief PR agencies. Put simply, every business is different, targeting different audiences and sectors with wildly differing objectives and communications challenges that need to be overcome. Furthermore, every agency, as well as the teams within those agencies, is different so expectations of how to be briefed will also differ. So it would be entirely disingenuous to suggest that this whitepaper could define the perfect brief. As a result, we have designed this whitepaper to provide guidance on what a business might consider putting in a brief and insight into why you would do this. This is based on personal insight having been on the receiving end of some of the most insightful briefs imaginable, which were a joy to respond to, as well as receiving some briefs where every ounce of professional diplomacy was required to steer the company towards giving any worthwhile information that could be responded to within a proposal. I have also been on the drafting end as marketing director of a renewable energy company start-up so I know how challenging preparing a brief can be! However, most communications professionals will agree that PR agency briefs can very much be a case of the better the input, the better the output. Ignore the importance of the brief and you run the risk of sitting through a selection of agency presentations and proposals that entirely miss the mark. Worse still, the tedium may be played out in front of your peers and bosses sitting alongside you. It is for this reason that I am firmly of the belief that the brief should be as comprehensive as you can make it. Build in challenges to test the chosen PR agencies’ understanding of your business and sector by all means, but assuming the agencies have the ability to join the dots around deliberately absent information is to run the risks already spelt out above. Far better to receive four or five excellent proposals where the decision about which agency to appoint is a challenging one, than to simply be left with one or maybe two agencies which happen to be the closest in their levels of understanding. After all, the agency you end up selecting is not simply a supplier but the custodian of your external reputation with the ability to provide genuine commercial value. Get it wrong and time, effort and your investment will be wasted. 1. What’s the best way to brief an agency? There is a fairly typical two-stage process for briefing PR agencies. The first involves the request for credentials that will allow the agencies to demonstrate they have the appropriate skills, capabilities and expertise for your particular business. Whether this is done through a formal Request For Information (RFI) or simply by asking for credentials (‘creds’) to be sent
  3. 3. How to write a PR Brief, P 3 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 through via e-mail, this should allow any business to quickly select an appropriately sized shortlist of agencies. The creds part of the process should not be overlooked. There are many examples of the wrong shortlist being pulled together because of shortcomings within this first step. If you are unfamiliar with PR agencies that serve your sector, then a process that begins by requesting written information which is then followed up by a creds meeting will allow you to assess whether the agency is the right fit for your business. It is important to be as clear as you can be about what you are looking for in an agency at this stage, e.g. sector experience, minimum fee levels and so on. Most agencies will rule themselves out if they feel they are not the right fit and save both you and them a lot of wasted time and effort. Holding a creds meeting also gives a PR agency the first opportunity to understand your communications requirements and elicit an initial brief. The session should also inform you of the type of information that the agencies need within the brief itself. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the creds meetings to form the entire brief, all of which is given verbally. This is often the case for briefs from start-ups and SMEs. Importantly, the creds stage gives you a chance to test aspects of your brief and to understand what needs to be included. As such, most companies hold off drafting the written brief until after the creds stage is completed as it is typically easier to draft the brief once the agencies have asked all their questions, thereby giving a steer for the information they require. There is also the advantage of now knowing which shortlist of agencies the brief is being prepared for. There are two further considerations worth noting at this point. First of all, some communications requirements do require utmost confidentiality and in such circumstances, setting a fictitious brief as a test is a well-trodden path. However, be advised that these should still be as closely rooted in reality as possible as the agencies will still be researching around your business and the proposals will appear muddled if the mock brief jars with actual coverage and discussion about your company. Secondly, larger briefs may require the use of several stages within the pitch process to refine the shortlist and ensure that full due diligence on the agency and team is completed. This should be carefully defined in advance as it will require considerable amounts of internal commitment from within your company as well as from the agencies. On the point of confidentiality, it is absolutely appropriate to require agencies to sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) before receiving the brief. However, you should also be absolutely clear to agencies what type of external research they can conduct when preparing their response to the brief. It is commonplace for agencies to include media and audience audits within their research and if this is a point of concern for you and your organisation, then be clear up front. 2. How many agencies to brief It will come as no surprise that as an absolute minimum you are going to have to receive at least three proposals if you are going to get any sense of how to assess the market. To achieve a shortlist of at least three agencies should involve speaking with at least twice that number. Obviously meeting and briefing PR agencies is a time-consuming task and that is why many companies quite sensibly include an RFI stage before any meetings are held. This
  4. 4. How to write a PR Brief, P 4 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 allows the company to approach a broader selection of agencies, although most will want to know how many other agencies have been approached before committing the resources to respond depending on the potential fees involved. For example, a company recently approached 15 agencies for the initial RFI stage and with a potential budget of £20,000 per month, every agency contacted chose to respond. Given an average fee of approximately £5,000 per month, most companies would approach about half a dozen agencies in the first instance. In considering how many agencies to fully brief in order to receive a proposal, it is probably best to think of it in terms of the time required at the pitch stage. While some companies allot only an hour, it is more common to set aside at least an hour and a half thereby giving the agency plenty of time to present and allowing enough time for in-depth questions. Assuming all pitches will happen over one or two days, and given the time commitment from the three or more people within your company who will need to attend the pitches, it is no wonder that most pitches have a shortlist of between three and five companies. It is also worth noting that from an agency perspective, knowing there are more than five agencies on a pitch list is incredibly disincentivising. 3. What could go in a brief? As already stated, the more comprehensive the brief, the greater the quality of response. However, what you include is largely driven by how you are going to assess the agencies. If it is knowledge of your business and, more importantly, your market that matters most, then you will want to keep such information within the brief at a minimum to see how the agencies respond. This is often the case for start-ups where working with agencies that ‘get it’ in terms of relevant experience is a major driving factor behind deciding which agency to choose. On the other hand, for many companies it is the communications challenge being faced that is of primary importance and therefore the key criteria for assessing the agencies will be their strategic approach and how their proposed PR programme will meet your needs. In such circumstances, ensuring the agencies have as much information as possible about your business and market is vital to ensure high quality responses. However, for the purposes of this whitepaper a standard brief breaks down into three content areas: your business, your requirements and the pitch process itself. There is little need to dwell on how to describe your business as this is fairly straightforward - describing what your business does, the products/services it sells and so on. What is sometimes missing but is invaluable from a PR planning perspective is insight into your business objectives and priorities – these may be wider or, indeed, differ from your marketing communications objectives. Also be clear, either within the creds meeting or the written proposal, about where your challenges and opportunities lie; frankly, it is no bad thing to break the information down into a quasi-SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis. In doing so, discussing the market and the competitive challenges you face is also important as it allows the agencies to analyse the competitors’ communications campaigns and design a PR programme that will respond accordingly. Briefs have been produced that contain little more than information on the business itself. Although unusual, such briefs are certainly challenging for the agencies. However be advised that on more than one occasion the companies that produced such briefs were then disappointed by how many agencies delivered poorly conceived proposals in response.
  5. 5. How to write a PR Brief, P 5 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 Whilst this may have the effect of sorting the wheat from the chaff, it is draining on resources both for your company and the agencies involved. The second area the brief needs to cover is, of course, your actual PR requirements. From personal experience this is the hardest part of the brief preparation and from the receiving end I can anecdotally say this is where the most confusion reigns. All too often this part of the brief proves to be inaccurate when scrutinised within the pitch itself. Largely this is because internal consensus within the company has not been reached and expectations of what the PR agency needs to do for the company vary. Also, be prepared for PR agencies to potentially challenge this part of the brief and suggest an alternative approach. Therefore, what this section does need to be crystal clear on is what your objectives are from the PR campaign. The best way to think about this is to consider what success looks like within a certain time period. It is equally valid for these measurements of success to be both from a formal KPI perspective and from a wider criteria basis. Be equally clear on which audiences you are targeting and when considering what success looks like, consider how you want those audiences to be influenced, e.g. to buy your product, achieve a certain degree of brand recognition, etc. With the rise of social media, audience insight is now even more important for PR agency briefs than it ever was in the past as the ability to design and deliver campaigns that reach and influence very specific types of audience is now perfectly achievable. You should also strongly consider providing the agencies with any available market research you have at your disposal as this will ensure that the resulting proposals are more tightly focussed on reaching and influencing your target audiences. You will also need to add any details within the requirements section about the scope of the PR programme with regards to digital/social media, international remit, as well as other functions that PR agencies may carry out such as events, etc. This should include any limitations or restrictions that the PR agency must consider such as other engaged agencies or in-house personnel responsible for these activities. The third aspect of the brief is to do with the process itself. The PR agencies will seek as much information as possible about who they will be meeting with, the expectations for every stage of the pitch process, timings (including how long they will have to present their pitch), the format of delivery, and a range of other factors. It remains commonplace to set creative scenarios within pitches and if you intend to do so it is useful to give guidance on how much focus the agency should give the scenarios within their proposal and pitch. In other words, if it is an important aspect of the judging criteria then by telling agencies that they should devote a percentage (e.g. fifteen minutes within the hour) of the pitch to responding to these scenarios will ensure that you have a level playing field by which to judge the agencies. Indeed, clarity over how the agencies will be judged is a commonplace feature of excellent briefs. Finally, if you do have a budget that you would like the PR agencies to respond to, then state this clearly within the brief. This should also include any criteria about whether it includes third party costs and expenses, and if there is any leeway for additional budget proposals for standalone campaigns and so on.
  6. 6. How to write a PR Brief, P 6 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 4. How you will benefit No matter how good the brief, or how good the response, the dominant reason for choosing an agency is the people you are buying; be it the personal rapport, degree of relevant experience and knowledge, or confidence they instil. As such, the brief must be able to facilitate this assessment. That is why holding at least a creds meeting as well as a pitch is so important. However, the brief itself must give you the opportunity to assess the agencies’ teams. That is why I am personally so much in favour of a comprehensive brief as it allows one to assess how well the agencies are able to interpret that brief and you are far more likely to receive at least one proposal and pitch that ‘nails it’. In other words, a great brief will allow a great team to shine by producing and delivering a proposal that clearly shows that they are the right fit for you and your company. About the author Scott McLean is a seasoned PR consultant who more recently was joint managing director and head of the corporate practice at Speed Communications. Having started his career in journalism and then spending his formative PR years at Hotwire PR, Scott co-founded a renewable energy company taking on the responsibility of marketing director. His experience ranges from start-ups to challenger brands and large blue chip organisations. Scott is now the co-founder of The Intelligent Marketing Institute, the knowledge exchange for marketing and communications professionals involved in customer engagement. The Institute provides members with a single source for the latest knowledge, guidance and solutions from industry experts and peers.
  7. 7. How to write a PR Brief, P 7 of 7 Part 19 of the Public Relations Whitepaper Series from Daryl Willcox Publishing © Daryl Willcox Publishing 2013 +44 (0)845 370 7777 DWPub ( helps PRs, organisations and the media connect, collaborate and tell stories more effectively every day. We provide the media and marketing community with simple, easy-to-use and highly effective online media relations information, management and networking services which together we call the DWPub Media Suite. Up-to-date media contacts database, forward features and media management tools. Maximise your coverage. FeaturesExec is essential for professional PRs as well as businesses, charities and organisations that want media coverage. Media enquiries and coverage opportunities at your fingertips. ResponseSource provides leads for PRs, businesses, charities and other organisations that want media coverage. Target opt-in UK and international journalists, share images, documents and video and optimise your press releases for search and social media. Create and manage your own customised newsroom to engage with journalists and other influencers. Over 7,000 freelance journalists in one place. Find independent freelance journalists who want to cover your story or work for you. For more information on the DWPub Media Suite or to request a free demo and trial: • Visit • Call +44 (0)845 370 7777 • Email Comments or queries about this whitepaper are very welcome.  2013 All rights reserved Daryl Willcox Publishing, Melrose House, 42 Dingwall Road, Croydon, CR9 2DX
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This whitepaper will guide you through the whats, hows and whys of preparing a brief, including: - What's the best way to brief an agency - How many agencies to brief - What could go in a brief - How you will benefit


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